Julia Grigg celebrates Morrab’s magnificent magnolias and the flower motifs of William Morris’s designs, and visits the Garden Museum. But Julia starts this Miscellany with the meditative poetry of Andrew Marvel
M – mmm, a MIXED bag for this Miscellany:
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726), one of the most influential scientists of all time, referred to the colour green as ‘the canvas of the natural world.’ Contemporary garden designer Dan Pearson (1964-) says, ‘Green recalibrates our lives.’
But it is to the poet Andrew MARVELL, (1621-1678) whose 400th birth anniversary is celebrated this year, that we owe the phrase most tellingly describing the soothing effect of greenery and the rewards of retreating from the hurly-burly into a garden.
I’ve highlighted the line in the sixth verse of Marvell’s poem, The Garden:
How vainly men themselves amaze To win the palm, the oak, or bays, And their uncessant labours see Crown’d from some single herb or tree, Whose short and narrow verged shade Does prudently their toils upbraid; While all flow’rs and all trees do close To weave the garlands of repose. Fair Quiet, have I found thee here, And Innocence, thy sister dear! Mistaken long, I sought you then In busy companies of men; Your sacred plants, if here below, Only among the plants will grow. Society is all but rude, To this delicious solitude. No white nor red was ever seen So am’rous as this lovely green. Fond lovers, cruel as their flame, Cut in these trees their mistress’ name; Little, alas, they know or heed How far these beauties hers exceed! Fair trees! wheres’e’er your barks I wound, No name shall but your own be found. When we have run our passion’s heat, Love hither makes his best retreat. The gods, that mortal beauty chase, Still in a tree did end their race: Apollo hunted Daphne so, Only that she might laurel grow; And Pan did after Syrinx speed, Not as a nymph, but for a reed. What wond’rous life in this I lead! Ripe apples drop about my head; The luscious clusters of the vine Upon my mouth do crush their wine; The nectarine and curious peach Into my hands themselves do reach; Stumbling on melons as I pass, Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass. Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less, Withdraws into its happiness; The mind, that ocean where each kind Does straight its own resemblance find, Yet it creates, transcending these, Far other worlds, and other seas; Annihilating all that’s made To a green thought in a green shade. Here at the fountain’s sliding foot, Or at some fruit tree’s mossy root, Casting the body’s vest aside, My soul into the boughs does glide; There like a bird it sits and sings, Then whets, and combs its silver wings; And, till prepar’d for longer flight, Waves in its plumes the various light. Such was that happy garden-state, While man there walk’d without a mate; After a place so pure and sweet, What other help could yet be meet! But ’twas beyond a mortal’s share To wander solitary there: Two paradises ’twere in one To live in paradise alone. How well the skillful gard’ner drew Of flow’rs and herbs this dial new, Where from above the milder sun Does through a fragrant zodiac run; And as it works, th’ industrious bee Computes its time as well as we. How could such sweet and wholesome hours Be reckon’d but with herbs and flow’rs!
The MEDITATIVE style of the poem takes your mind wandering, don’t you find? just as though following a winding path among ‘fair trees’ in ‘delicious solitude’ – reminiscent, of course, of strolling Morrab Gardens.
Marvell was a friend of famed poet John MILTON (1608-74) and in his political career served under Oliver Cromwell as well as the restored monarchy of Charles II. In his best-known poem, ‘To His Coy MISTRESS’, Marvell chides the girl he’s courting not to squander her youthful prime in denying the fulfilment of their love.
During his lifetime (1834-86) the MULTI-TALENTED William MORRIS was best known as a poet but while still in his twenties he began designing the wallpapers which remain fashionable to this day.
All Morris’ hand-printed wallpapers contained stylised fruit, foliage and flower MOTIFS, he insisting he must have ‘suggestions of gardens or fields in my patterns.’
For more on this topic there’s an informative post on the website of the Arts Society by art historian and lecturer Joanna Banham.
Via The Arts Society Connected link you can join discussions, read blogs and watch a series of Lectures at Home. Visit www.theartssociety.org for membership details.
M is also for MAGNOLIA.
Robin Lane Fox, gardening writer for the Financial Times, puts magnolia top of the list he calls his ‘MAGNIFICENT 7’, the shrub families he recommends for planting by a beginner gardener. Fox writes, ‘every spring we bless the efforts of the gardeners who [in earlier eras] did so.’ He advises, ‘I would start with the well-known magnolia soulangeana’ adding that ‘the pure white form, soulangeana alba, is even lovelier.
Penzance’s great good fortune is that Morrab Gardens’ display of magnolias bursts into bloom early. Even in February you can find the buds of the two soulangeana hybrids (purply-pink atropurpurea and the creamy white alba rustica) already opened. Amongst the Gardens’ splendid specimens there are also a magnolia campbellii, two grandiflora (‘Goliath’ and ‘Exmouth’) and a dwarf grandiflora (which Morrab Head Gardener Joe Palmese notes is probably ‘Little Gem’.)
Finally, M’s for MUSEUM too.
Well of course, there has to be a MUSEUM dedicated to all things gardening.
The Garden Museum, describing itself as ‘a glimpse into the uniquely British love affair with gardens,’ is at 5 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB. There’s a permanent display of paintings, tools, ephemera and historic artefacts, as well as temporary exhibitions and events and a café and shop.
And at the Museum’s heart: a garden designed by Dan Pearson. Deciding to fill this space with rare plant specimens, Pearson took inspiration from the journeys of two C17th Lambeth residents, father and son plant collectors John Tradescant senior and junior (more about these two in my 15th October Miscellany.)